Audio: How Clinton Dannemora prison shaped two people’s lives
Mar 06, 2017 — Last week our reporter Zach Hirsch set up a storytelling booth at SUNY Plattsburgh.
The booth, inspired by the national StoryCorps project, was called the Brave Space. It was part of the school’s diversity week. People went in pairs to talk about their identities, struggles, and their history.
One of the conversations we recorded was with Tyrrell Muhammad. After participating in a robbery in the ’70s, Muhammad spent nearly 30 years in prison at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.
Muhammad sat down with Clarence Jefferson Hall, a history professor whose father was a corrections officer at the same state prison.
Tyrrell Muhammad: In growing up in the North Country and being a son of a correction officer, what’s some of the things that you experienced through your father?
Clarence Jefferson Hall: I think my father, he worked a job that he hated. My mother has told me many times that my father significantly changed as a person from before he took that job, from before he went to the academy and became an officer. So he carried a lot of anger with him that he, I think, did not know how to articulate, did not know how to express.
Our house became like a prison. I found myself in my bedroom most of the time with the door closed. He sort of positioned himself in the living room and everyone else was in their spaces with the doors closed. And he was very much a terrifying authority figure in the household. I dealt with that by hiding in libraries with books. And I still do that today.
TM: That’s what I do.
CJH: And can you talk about your experience in the state correctional system?
TM: Oh yes. I did 26 years and eleven months, seven years in solitary confinement. And the reality of solitary confinement is that you will lose your mind. You will hallucinate. You will be traumatized. I don’t know all that you can do to remain sane, but there’s going to be a part of you that’s not going to be whole anymore. And that’s torture.
The depression becomes to the point where you become unemotional. People just think you hardcore and mean. But they don’t understand that you’re just trying to hide your emotions because they’re so raw. And you don’t want no one to see you cry. It destroys much of your humanity.
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